Other established professions in business: Law and human resource management
In relation to law, Brooks (2018) claims that lawyers, like accountants, are not exempt from responsibility for misdemeanours related to the financial crash and its aftermath. In his eyes, attorneys in the United
States and lawyers in Britain can scarcely be said to have always acted as pillars of society internationally in the lead up to, and fall out from, this pivotal event. This should not be too surprising given their ever-greater organisational entanglement with increasingly large corporate bodies, as discussed in Chapter 4. However, just as in the case of accountants, we should be prepared to see their activities in the round -even in the face of their severest critics - in terms of the public interest. In law this public interest orientation is most fully expressed in their growing involvement in pro bono work at the local level. This is positively illustrated in the United States, where uncompensated provision of legal services to poor people forms a substantial part of civil legal assistance, at a time of rising costs and shrinking federally subsidised law services in the market (Sandefur, 2007).
The focus here, though, is on the involvement of the legal profession in business. Sommerlad and Ashley (2018) highlight some of the current issues in corporate law in the Anglo-American context. Law firms in this context have typically restructured over the past few decades based on a more commercial logic, in part as a result of the need for new forms of legal regulation and financial instruments with a boom in corporate business. As Esland (1980b) points out, in the late twentieth century one of the most significant resulting growth areas has been corporation law, especially in the United States. He relates that law students henceforth had a major emphasis in their curriculum on different aspects of business law, while the legal profession even at that time had become a major servant of business and profit. In this sense, some partners felt they were losing the capacity and status of an independent legal profession - with a loss of control over their knowledge and the application of their intellectual skills compared to previous times (Smigel, 1964).
In this respect, the corporations and law firms in Wall Street and elsewhere became heavily dependent on each other - with lawyers sitting on the boards of corporations and participating in business decisions in relation to such issues as minimising tax liability, expanding forms of credit and industrial case law (Esland, 1980b). As such, the interests of lawyers could be impugned for becoming so closely intertwined with those of the profit-oriented corporations. Since then, though, lawyers have increasingly - but not totally - been squeezed out of the market for economic and financial advice by accountants (Flood, 2018). This growing marginality in the corporate world can be exemplified by the loss of the monopoly by lawyers of their previous positions of power in the big German banks, with a halving of their occupancy of management positions in the final three decades of the last century. Where
Business and management issues 135 lawyers do still retain influence at the highest echelons, though, they can have a real impact on business dealings, unlike the mass of insurance lawyers who practise on the ground in a divided profession in Germany (Hartmann. 1995). Brock, Leblebici and Muzio (2014) have argued that both lawyers and accountants in these positions are important economic actors, who arbitrate, regulate and support national and international exchanges in commerce.
From a gender perspective, as Sommerlad and Ashley (2018) note, female representation in the legal profession in England and Wales has laudably grown ten-fold since the mid-1980s, with almost fifty per cent of solicitors now being women - which has closely followed patterns in the United States and other modern neo-liberal societies like Australia. As they point out, accountancy has not been far behind, with one-third of British accountants being female, compared with almost twice that proportion of accountants and auditors in the United States. In law, as in accountancy, however, women are less likely to be partners in firms and more likely to be paid a lower salary, with these trends accentuated in the more prestigious corporations. Moreover, the negative effects of gender in the legal profession are further accentuated amongst black and Asian minority solicitors - who typically work in lower-status and less profitable parts of the profession. Historically, in accountancy too, ethnicity - as well as social class - may detrimentally affect women’s experiences (Hayes and Jacobs, 2017). As Edgley, Sharma and Anderson-Gough (2016) argue, in the Big Four firms in accountancy, notwithstanding the increasingly emerging social media image of the diverse accountant as an aid to the recruitment of talent in Britain, the United States and Canada, there is still an attachment to traditional commercial discourses and motifs.
Following on from this, as Sommerlad and Ashley (2018) underline in law in Britain, despite the apparently more egalitarian expansion of the numbers of women lawyers - alongside those of accountants - archaic structures and discourses continue in such fields. These include patriarchal ideologies of the ’natural' role of femininity, homemaking and motherhood that are used to justify women’s exclusion from positions in corporate law and other sectors of the legal profession. Such ideologies may transmit themselves to clients, as Bogoch (1997) discovered in her analysis of the influence of the control of discourse, interruptions, topic control and challenges in reinforcing the dominance of male lawyers over female users of their services. As Sommerlad and Ashley (2018) report, the resulting inequalities within the profession are not helped by two potentially discriminatory practices in elite firms in Britain in corporate law:
- • the long working days in continuing to offer an infinitely responsive service to commercial players; and
- • the time-honoured ‘tournament’ in which professionals compete for promotion, under the threat of being forced to leave the firm.
In the latter, a minimum requirement is that professionals exceed their targets in billable hours and engage in the aggressive pursuit of profits. In consequence, profits per equity partner in the corporate legal sector are reported by Muzio and Flood (2012) to have recently grown by 150 per cent over a fifteen-year period - albeit at the cost of further progress in terms of diversity.
Aside from the mainstream classical professions of law and, indeed, accountancy, there are other long-established professional groups that have not yet rivalled them in terms of importance. Personnel management can be taken as one of these, alongside areas like marketing, which is particularly growing in significance in professional service firms (Clark and Nixon, 2015). Like law and accountancy, this is also a largely female-populated profession with a glass ceiling when it comes to senior posts - as Webber (2019) has shown in Britain, where there is also a parallel lack of minority ethnic representation in the upper echelons of the profession. However, although Watson (2017) refers to the way in which personnel managers have embraced the symbolism of a profession to further their own occupational interests, this has not enabled them to insert themselves into a dominant position in the business professional pecking order. This may be a function of a profession that is more than three-quarters populated by women (Webber, 2019) in a patriarchal society - thereby mirroring the fate of the many female-dominated professions that have preceded it (Witz, 1992)
Thus, while the Institute of Personnel Management in Britain has tens of thousands of members, it has not convinced business managers that it could move centre stage despite the need to implement the ongoing spate of employment and other related legislation that has recently been enacted in this country and internationally. According to Thompson and McHugh (2009), this situation has persisted even since the title ‘human resource management’ was introduced into the discourse of professionalisation and the growing interest of companies in the change management agenda, which is at the heart of contemporary personnel management. As Leicht (2016b) notes, this has been paralleled in the United States where human relations management was diverted down a different path from the 1970s onwards to that followed by key corporate executives, who were increasingly drawn from financial backgrounds. Human relations personnel instead, in his eyes, were employed mainly as managers to cool
Business and management issues 137 out employees in the face of rising union power - having previously focused rather more on the enhancement of worker satisfaction.
This highlights the politics of work in a competitive marketplace in a neo-Weberian sense where human relations experts like industrial psychologists can be seen as the servants of capitalism (Esland, 1980a). In this sense, it is perhaps unfortunate that human resource managers have tended to be sidelined in modern societies by finance professionals. On a more positive note, Swart and Kinnie (2003) have analysed how their policies and processes can contribute to the sharing of important knowledge in organisations. More recently, they have underscored the impact of knowledge sharing through human resources in professional service firms and the development of organisational learning in a study of sixteen professional services firms in Britain and the United States, covering areas from law and management consultancy to the work of software houses and advertising agencies (Swart and Kinnie, 2010). This is reinforced by a further publication by Swart and colleagues (2014) which provides an explicit response to the question of why knowledge sharing is a positive feature of organisational life in knowledge-intensive firms and the importance of engaging commitment to this at all levels, including amongst professional themselves.
Doorewaard and Meihuizen (2000) meanwhile have shown how human resources can support resource strategies based on expertise and efficiency orientations linked to client relations, problem solving and adaptations in such firms. To further accentuate the relatively understated value of the human resources profession in national organisational contexts, Carvalho and Cabral-Cardoso (2008) have demonstrated in Portugal how such professionals achieved functional and numerical flexibility in a combined and interdependent way in management consulting firms. This is not to say, however, that there are no further issues to address. As Hearne, Metcalfe and Piekkari (2012) stress, one of the most notable of these - as in accounting and law - remains that of gender and inter-sectionality with areas such as ethnicity in global, transnational and national business settings. We shall now turn to look at new and emerging professions in business which have also been beset by similar issues, but have not yet attracted the same kind of critical attention in the literature in modern neo-liberal societies in general and the Anglo-American context in particular (Saks and Brock, 2018).